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I heard fish can get swim bladder disease this time of year, what is it? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I heard fish can get swim bladder disease this time of year, what is it?

Q: I heard fish can get swim bladder disease this time of year, what is it?

Becky – Trumbell, CT

A:  Many bony fish, like the fancy goldfish found in ornamental ponds, have an organ called a swim bladder. This gas-filled sack has two main purposes: It helps the fish control its buoyancy and remain at a particular depth without having to waste energy on swimming, and it keeps the fish in an upright position. When a fish is unable to control its depth, or starts swimming sideways, upside side down, or head or tail down, it may have “swim bladder disease.”

A fish with swim bladder disease can be a troubling sight to see, but it can be treated. Here’s what you need to know about what causes it and how to get your fish swimming the right way again.

Your Gluttonous Goldfish

Although intestinal parasites and microorganisms can cause swim bladder disease, it mainly stems from overeating, eating too quickly or gulping too much air during feeding time. The fish gobbles mouthfuls of pellets, which expand like sponges as they soak up water in the mouth and digestive tract leading to constipation. Enough pressure on the swim bladder will cause the fish to swim any which way but up.

Time for a Diet Change

Water temperatures dip – sometimes precipitously – in the fall, and that change can slow your fishes’ digestive processes. They have a harder time digesting protein when it’s cold, and it can build up in their gut and result in an enlarged intestine.

To prevent this from happening, switch your fish food during the fall (and spring). Using a pond thermometer, periodically check your water temperature. Once temperatures are consistently between 40°F and 50°F, change over to a lower-protein, higher-carbohydrate diet like The Pond Guy® Spring and Fall Fish Food, which is packed with easier-to-digest wheat germ. Feed them two to three times a week and only give them an amount that they will eat within 5 minutes. When temperatures drop below 40°F, stop feeding them entirely.

Peas to the Rescue

The best treatment for swim bladder disease is found in your refrigerator or freezer. Frozen or cooked peas, will blast through the impaction and reduce the pressure on the fish’s swim bladder. If your fish starts floating sideways, we recommend you stop feeding them for a few days and then hand feed peas to help clear up any blockages.

Medicating fish in outdoor ponds with cooler temperatures really is not an option, as the medications won’t work – so stick with the fasting-plus-peas remedy.

If one of your fish is really stressed, a salt bath could help – but you will need to dissolve the salt in an indoor holding tank filled with warm 78 to 80ºF water. Keep in mind that when you transfer your fish from the cooler 40°-50°F outdoor water to the warmer treatment tank, that temperature change can easily shock the fish. It should be avoided.

Pond Talk: Have you ever had to treat one of your pond fish for swim bladder disease? If so, what did you do?

Wheatgerm Formula for Cooler Months - The Pond Guy® Spring and Fall Fish Food


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5 Responses

  1. The water was in the high 50s this afternoon. One fish is still swimming, one was slightly active and the remaining three are at the bottom on their sides. I’m afraid we will be losing four. Any tips for next year?

    • I’m sorry to hear that. I would be watchful of the water temperature. Feed only wheatgerm foods when temperatures are dropping around 50 degrees, wheatgerm based food are easier to digest when the water is cold. If water temperatures drop below 40 degrees do not feed at all. Continue with circulating the water for oxygen.

  2. I have a 300 gallon outdoor pond with five comet goldfish. Last week it snowed (a rarity here) and the pond froze over. Now four of the fish are sideways at the bottom of the pond. They have been like this for a week. The temperatures dip down at night but not enough to freeze. Will peas help and how should I feed them if they are not moving around? Do you have any other suggestions?

    • Hi Kit – Do you know what the temperature of the water is? If water temperatures are below 40 degrees I would definitely not try feeding them as their system would not be able to break down the food efficiently when their systems slow due to colder temperatures. Generally when fish go into “hiberation” mode they will hang out at the bottom of the pond and not move much but they should still be upright.

      • I will check the temperature tonight. The current outdoor temperature is 54 degrees. It has been significantly warming up outside since last week.

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